House panel probes charges of human trafficking in Iraq embassy project By Robert Brodsky

Dandelion Salad

By Robert Brodsky
Government Executive
July 26, 2007

A pair of whistleblowers alleged Thursday that the contractor selected to build the U.S. embassy in Iraq “kidnapped” foreign nationals to work on the $592 million construction project, luring low-wage laborers into a war zone under false promises that they would be working at hotels in Dubai.

John Owens and Rory Mayberry, both former employees of First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting Co., told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that workers from the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Sierra Leone were tricked into boarding planes to Baghdad and then forced to work and live in squalid — and often dangerous — conditions.

The allegations have been vigorously disputed by both First Kuwaiti and the State Department inspector general, who investigated the claims.

“Let me spell it out clearly. I believe these men were kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work on the U.S. Embassy,” said Mayberry, who worked for the contractor for less than a week providing emergency medical services to construction workers. “They had no passports because they were confiscated at the Kuwait Airport. When the airplane touched down at Baghdad Airport, they were loaded into buses and taken away. Later, I found out they were smuggled into the Green Zone. They had no IDs, no passports, nothing.”

Owens said he witnessed workers at the job site being physically and verbally abused by First Kuwaiti managers who threatened to dock their salary if they were five minutes late or found sitting down at work. And although they were contractually obligated to work 12-hour days, seven days a week, if workers wanted a new pair of shoes or gloves, they were told to “do with what you have,” Owens claimed.

Mayberry, meanwhile, said he found men working on 30-foot-high scaffolds, with no safety harnesses and under the influence of pain killers.

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Thanks for the link, Malcolm.

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